Craig Gardner

Preview: Sunderland v Aston Villa

by Stuart Vose

Match preview ahead of Saturday's game.

Sunderland will be hoping for home comforts as they face Aston Villa for the 145th time in all competitions.

The Black Cats will play their fourth home league fixture this weekend hoping to make up lost ground following the midweek cup defeat to Middlesbrough on Wearside.

The defeat was just the second in 11 games for Martin O'Neill's side, whose last league victory came at the end of September.

They sit 14th in the table with nine points from eight games having played one fixture less than every team bar Reading, whom they will face in a re-arranged match later in the season.

Meanwhile, Saturday's opponents sit just a point outside the Barclays Premier League relegation zone, having taken six points from nine outings this season.

Paul Lambert's side have endured a chequered start to the season and haven't tasted victory since mid-September in the league.

They have lost four of their five away games so far, claiming their solitary away point so far courtesy of a 1-1 draw at Newcastle.

However, the Capital One Cup provided a timely boost for the Midlands side in midweek as they scored a late winner to seal a 3-2 victory at in-form League One outfit Swindon.

The Robins pulled back to 2-2 after Villa took a two-goal lead, but a last-gasp effort from leading scorer Christian Benteke secured safe passage through to the last eight of the competition.

Now Lambert will be hoping to carry that confidence boost over into this weekend's game.

He suffered a 3-0 defeat on Wearside last season while Norwich boss, while Villa haven't beaten Sunderland in their last five attempts.

Their last victory on Wearside came in December 2009 (2-0) – ironically under O'Neill.

Both games last season were drawn (2-2 and 0-0) while Sunderland did the double over Villa in the 2010-11 campaign with 1-0 victories home and away.

The game will see Darren Bent return to the Stadium of Light for the second time since his move to the Midlands, while Sunderland's Carlos Cuellar could face his former club after making the switch to Wearside in the summer.

Opta Facts

There have been five red cards in the last seven Premier League meetings between Sunderland and Aston Villa.

Martin O’Neill was manager of Aston Villa for four seasons, winning 61 of 152 Premier League matches, a win percentage of 40%. His current win percentage for Sunderland is 31% which is the second best by any Black Cats’ boss in the Premier League era after Peter Reid.

The Black Cats have lost just one of their last nine Premier League home games (W3 D5 L1).

Aston Villa have won none of their last 13 Premier League away matches (W0 D5 L8).

Seven of Aston Villa’s nine league games this season have gone under 2.5 goals.

Six of Sunderland’s games have gone under 2.5 goals this season.

Sunderland’s Craig Gardner is the only player to hit 10 or more shots (inc. blocked) this season and see none of them hit the target.